Monday 12 February 2018

Return from the rainforests of Guyana and Tobago

Late last night Laura and I returned home following our honeymoon, where waiting for us was around 40 cm of snow on the ground. The adventure commenced in the Rupununi savanna in west-central Guyana on January 27, and finished in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad yesterday morning. Along the way we visited some spectacular primary rainforests in the heart of Guyana, the impressive Kaieteur Falls that easily puts our hometown Niagara Falls to shame, and the sandy beaches and montane forests in Tobago. The trip was highly successful, not least because of the variety and abundance of wildlife we crossed paths with and the relatively untouched landscapes we were fortunate to explore.

Scarlet Macaws - Atta, Guyana

At some point I will post detailed accounts of each day of the trip; though that will have to wait until I finish the Borneo series. Who knows, maybe at some point this blog will have Ontario content too but don't count on it for a little while. In the mean time, here is a quick rundown of some of the highlights from the trip.

Maguari Stork - Karanambu, Guyana

While birds were often my main focus on past trips to the Neotropics, I am just as passionate about reptiles and amphibians, with mammals coming in a close third followed by everything else. Laura has an affinity for reptiles and amphibians while also showing a strong interest in many other taxa, and we are both very interested in trying to understand the ecology of an area, instead of just racking up a species list. While most eco-tourists to Guyana focus mainly on birds we did our best to spread the net wide to search for many different groups of organisms.

Crab-eating Fox - Karanambu, Guyana

The first ten days of the trip took place in the interior in Guyana, following an hour-long flight on a 20 seater plane. During these ten days we stayed at four different ecolodges, most being accessible from the main highway. The potholed Trans-Guyana highway as we affectionately called it is the main artery through the country from the capital of Georgetown in the north to Boa Vista, just over the border in Brazil. It has yet to be paved and it is said that only 20-30 vehicles make the trip each day from Georgetown south to the interior. As a result exploring along the main highway was one of my favorite parts of the trip due to the abundance of wildlife. It felt that the forest could swallow up the highway without much effort, and quite a few hours were spent walking along the road with nary a vehicle passing us the entire time.

traveling to white-sand forest along the Trans Guyana Highway, near Atta, Guyana

birding the Trans Guyana Highway near Atta, Guyana

Following our time in the interior, we flew back to Georgetown for two nights. Here we explored the botanical gardens in the city, and also boarded a small plane to visit the impressive Kaieteur Falls. Surrounded by untouched forest, the only way to view the falls is to charter a flight from Georgetown since there is no road access.

Kaieteur Falls, Guyana

We finished off the trip by staying in Tobago for three nights and Trinidad for one. After the long days of hiking in Guyana we were pretty tired, so it was great to rent a jeep and explore the beautiful forests and picturesque bays and beaches of Tobago at our own pace.

Tobago Glass Frog (Hyalinobatrachium orientale tobagoense) with eggs - Cuffie River, Tobago

Snakes put in a good showing despite the initial reluctance by some(but not all) of the local guides we utilized, and by the end of the trip we had tallied eleven individuals of nine species. Finding and catching a two-meter long Tiger Ratsnake (Spilotes pullatus) in Tobago was a big highlight, as was discovering two different False Coral Snakes (Erythrolamprus aesculapii) in Guyana. Our visit coincided with the dry season making it much more difficult to encounter snakes. The flooded forests during the wet season help concentrate snakes in upland pockets, making the search much easier. Unfortunately we struck out with Bushmaster, one species I was really hoping to find. Just another reason to go back!

False Coral Snake (Erythrolamprus aesculapii) - Surama, Guyana

Speaking of herps we found a good variety of other species. One of the major highlights was a morning spent searching for Bumblebee Poison Dart Frogs (Dendrobates leucomelas), which culminated in the discovery of five individuals. This relatively large dendrobatid has a relatively small geographic range centered of southern Venezuela, but they also range into western Guyana, northern Brazil and just over the border in Colombia.

Bumblebee Poison Dart Frog (Dendrobates leucomelas) - Surama, Guyana

While our overall species total for mammals was relatively low we did hit the jackpot with a few special ones. Out of the four species of anteaters in the world, we crossed paths with the two most difficult to find in Giant Anteater and Silky Anteater (we did not see Southern Tamandua, or Northern Tamandua which is found further north than where we were). The Rupununi is one of the best places in the world to see Giant Anteater, a Vulnerable species which is quite rare over most of its geographic range, and we lucked out one morning. Giant Otter was another major highlight and we had two sightings totaling three individuals. Giant Otter was first listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List in 2000 and since then the populations have continued to decline in most areas. The biggest mammal highlight for me was a massive male Jaguar that crossed the trail perhaps 30 m in front of us. The experience lasted only two seconds or so but it will be forever burned in my mind.

Giant Anteater - Karanambu, Guyana

We encountered about 350 species of birds during our time in Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago. The shear number of parrots, guans/currasows/trumpeters, cotingas and toucans in Guyana was impressive. This is partly because the impact from hunting is much reduced due to the small human population spread over a large area, and because most of the country consists of intact forest that has experienced relatively little impact from human activities.

Racket-tailed Coquette - Atta, Guyana

We had success with many of our big target species, including iconic ones such as Harpy Eagle (heard only unfortunately), Orange-breasted Falcon, four species of macaw, Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock, Capuchinbird, Black-banded Owl, Sunbittern, Black Currasow and Crimson Topaz. Additionally we connected with several difficult species with small or fragmented ranges, including Crested Doradito, White-naped Xenopsaris, Bearded Tachuri, Blood-coloured Woodpecker, White-winged Potoo, Chapman's Swift, Black Manakin, Cayenne Jay, Marail Guan and Guianan Red-Cotinga.

Sunbittern - Rupununi River, Karanambu, Guyana

Cotingas stole the show for me and in addition to the above mentioned Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock, Capuchinbird and Guianan Red-Cotinga, we also observed Pompadour Cotinga, Spangled Cotinga, Crimson Fruitcrow and Dusky Purpletuft.

Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock - Kaieteur National Park, Guyana

In our time in Tobago we found every bird species I was hoping to see, the highlight being at least eight White-tailed Sabrewings along the famous Gilpin Trace one morning. Our time in Trinidad was limited to just an afternoon/evening but we made the most of it, visiting the Caroni Swamp to witness the return of over 5,000 Scarlet Ibis to their roosts around dusk. Along the way we saw several Cook's Tree Boas and a surprise Silky Anteater among the Red Mangroves.

Scarlet Ibises - Caroni Swamp, Trinidad

In addition to all of the wildlife sightings, Laura and I really enjoyed hiking through the forests and savannas and spending quality time with each other. While maybe not the most traditional honeymoon destination, Guyana did not disappoint!


Mark Dorriesfield said...

WOW, what a trip!!! That's the way to do a honeymoon haha. Looking forward to the future posts

Jared said...

Great adventure, great photos. Glad the honeymoon went well!

Ethan Gosnell said...

I think I know where I'm going for my next trip, honeymoon or not!

Josh Vandermeulen said...

Thanks Mark! Sounds like you are having a blast in CR too, looking forward to hearing about it at some point!

Josh Vandermeulen said...

Thanks Jared!

Josh Vandermeulen said...

I would highly recommend Guyana!